Last week, I got the worst press release I’ve seen in my five-plus years as a journalist. This two-page monstrosity was heavy on verbiage but shockingly light on actual information about the product being announced. Then, when I went to find the PR contact address so I could ask some follow-up questions, there was none.
Needless to say, that release never ended up becoming a story. But *you* can do better than that. You just have to know how to write a press release. So we’ll take it step by step.
The title (and email title) is by far the most important part of your press release, because without a good one, nobody’s going to be interested enough to bother reading the body text. Since it’s so important, I’ve already written a full article about how to title your press release, so you should read through that here if you haven’t already. But the two-second version of that article is this: keep it simple and focus on the story, remembering that as an unknown startup it’s the story, not your brand, that’s the selling point.
The title should be centered and in bold. In some cases, it’s also acceptable to include a subtitle, but do that only if you have a good reason to. There is no need to include the author’s name below the title, or anywhere else on the release.
Immediately under your title should any embargo information—in other words, any information about when your story can be published. If you’re okay with reporters writing and publishing immediately, then you should include left-aligned text just under the headline that reads “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” Otherwise, in that position and in all caps, write “EMBARGOED UNTIL:” and then indicate the date and time, being sure to be clear about details like time zone and AM/PM.
You should also be a little careful with embargoes. Any ethical, professional journalist will respect them, but sometimes smaller blogs staffed by amateur writers may not be familiar with the term and won’t understand that the story isn’t meant to be released until later. Double-check before sending the release over if you have any doubts.
Just before your first body paragraph should be a dateline. At a bare minimum, this would include a city and state or country, like: “SAN FRANCISCO, CA” or “Beijing, China.” The formatting here can vary a little, and sometimes a date is also included. The dateline is usually followed by a dash, and then the first body paragraph begins immediately on that same line.
The body of the press release is all about giving journalists the details they’ll need to write a story in a clear and predictable way. Journalists understand news articles, so your press release should be formatted like one. Above all else, that means that it should be composed using the inverted pyramid style.
In the inverted pyramid and in your press release, your first paragraph will contain all of the most important information. If you’re announcing a funding round, for example, this paragraph would include the key details: you company’s name, what your company does, the amount you raised, when the round was raised, who the investors were, which investor was the lead, and what round of funding it was (e.g. seed, series A, etc.).
The second paragraph will contain other important but non-critical details. Continuing with the example of a funding round, this paragraph often explains what your company intends to do with the funding. Or, if you’re disclosing them, this paragraph might include some of the more specific financial details of the funding arrangement.
Subsequent paragraphs should include background information about the news, including at least one relevant quote from someone high-up at your company (for a startup, it really should be the founder or CEO). If your release is about a deal involving another company like a commercial partnership or investment, then you should also include quotes from relevant executives at those companies.
A note about the quotes: they don’t have to be things your executives actually said. It’s common practice for whoever’s drafting the press release to just write the quotes themselves and double-check with the executive later. If you want the quotes to actually get used in a story, though, be sure they sound like something a person genuinely could say. Many press release drafters attempt to use the quotes as a way to jam buzzwords into their copy, which results in sentences that sound horrendously unnatural and quotes that reporters will never use. If you want your quotes to actually be used in an article, they shouldn’t sound like ads and should offer some genuine insight into the thoughts, intents, or hopes behind whatever you’re announcing.
There’s no rule for how many paragraphs your release should have, but if the main body of the release is longer than one page, it’s too long. (If the “About” sections or contact information extend onto a second page, that’s OK.)
In terms of writing style, keep it simple, professional, and newsy. Your company may adopt a quirky style on (for example) your public-facing blog, but a press release should be written like a news article. Remember, this is primarily a professional document you’re sending to journalists; it’s not likely to be seen by many of your potential customers anyway.
About your company
After the main body of your release, it’s a good idea to include another section with some background information about your company, and any other companies involved in your story. Generally, this section would begin with a bolded header that reads “About Company Name.” Then, beginning on the next line, you should include a short paragraph that gives a basic overview of the details of your company. Two to four sentences covering where your company is based, when it was founded, what you do, and any notable accomplishments is sufficient.
If your release involves another company or companies in a major way, then short “About” sections for those companies would also be appropriate.
At the very end of your release should be the name, email, and phone number of one or more people at each company mentioned in the press release who are available to answer questions. Generally, this is a PR person, but it can be anyone – even your CEO, as long as they don’t mind taking calls and emails from reporters. Including this information is really important. Even if a reporter doesn’t have any questions about the news in your press release, they may use the contacts section of an old release sometime in the future to find contact information for your company. When I’m looking for a PR contact in my work as a journalist, a company’s recent press releases is generally the first place I look.
There are no strict rules when it comes to formatting a press release (other than those I’ve already mentioned), but again, the key is to keep it simple. Most releases don’t use color, and are written single-spaced in a basic font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Using a little bold or italic in the body text for emphasis is OK, but don’t overdo it—especially with bold, limit yourself to one short bolded phrase per paragraph.
Inline images are not necessary; however, it’s OK to include basic things like a company logo in a header or in the “About” section if you desire. Don’t include things like product or promotional images in the press release document itself. Attach them separately as detailed below.
Extras and distribution
Once you’ve got the release completely written and formatted correctly, save it as a PDF file. If you’d like to include the release as inline text in your email, you can, but be sure to also attach a PDF copy.
Additionally, you’ll probably want to include some visual assets with your release so that journalists can easily use a photo or video with their article. Photos with humans or products in them are *always* better than logos. Include the most high-resolution images that you can, as print journalists may have specific image size requirements they need to meet.
Do not attach image or video files directly to the email. Instead host them in a public folder on a cloud storage platform (Dropbox seems to be the default choice as of this writing) and include a link in your email, or even in the press release PDF itself if you’d like.
Once everything’s ready, you can send it out. Often, the title of your email will be the same as the title of your release (or something very similar), but in the email body you’ll want to include a quick personal greeting, a one-sentence summary of the news, and instructions on how to access the press release and any related visual content you’ve uploaded. If you’re sending out information with an embargo time, you should also note the embargo details including date, time, and time zone, in the body of your email. If you can arrange an interview with a key figure at your company, this would also be a good thing to note in the email.
Once you’ve done that, all that’s left to do is press send, and then sit back and wait for any questions that come back.